Until a few years ago, scant attention was paid in Egypt to the environmental impact of the millions of tourists who visit every year.
This has started to change, as foreign donors have pressed the government on the consequences of environmental degradation caused by massive development along the Red Sea coast.
Egypt has established 21 protected areas, and foreign donors, including the European Union, have contributed large amounts of capital to develop them on behalf of future generations of Egyptians.
The best known of these protected areas are St. Catherine protected area, Ras Mohamed National Park, and the Wadi Rayan protectorate. Read more about the protected areas at the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) website (www.eeaa.gov.eg/protectorates).
A number of resorts on the Sinai Peninsula, down the Red Sea coast between Gouna and Marsa Allam, and even in Cairo have begun to participate in environmental certification programs designed to assess their environmental footprint and maximize their sustainability. One of the more common ones is Green Globe 21 (www.ec3global.com/products-programs/green-globe). The program is named for the U.N. environmental Agenda 21 program (www.un.org/esa/sustdev/documents/agenda21/index.htm). You can contribute to making tourism greener by learning about the program and asking about it when you make your booking: Make it clear that your tourist dollars prefer to flow to sustainable enterprises.
Additionally, a number of local Egyptian NGOs have emerged that work on raising awareness of environmental issues and train tourism workers in ways that they can preserve the natural capital on which their jobs depend.
The Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA) is focused on marine issues along the coast. Read more about their efforts to protect marine life, coral, and wrecks at www.hepca.com.
Red Sea Rangers is an organization based on the Red Sea coast that aims to protect the marine environment over 700 km (435 miles) of coastline. It has an interesting and informative website at www.redseaparks.net.
Environmental Quality International (www.eqi.com.eg) is a private consulting firm that has done an enormous amount in the isolated desert oasis of Siwa, including the development of an ecolodge.
There are a number of locations in the Red Sea where it's possible to swim with wild dolphins. For information about the ethics of swimming with dolphins and other outdoor activities, visit the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (www.wdcs.org) and Tread Lightly (www.treadlightly.org).
Apart from staying in low-consumption facilities, you can also look at carbon offsetting as a way of reducing the overall impact of your vacation. Each time you take a flight or drive a car, CO2 is released into the atmosphere. You can help neutralize this danger to our planet through carbon offsetting (paying someone to reduce your CO2 emissions by the same amount you've added). Carbon offsets can be purchased in the U.S. from companies such as Carbonfund.org (www.carbonfund.org) and TerraPass (www.terrapass.org), and from Climate Care (www.climatecare.org) in the U.K.
Although one could argue that any vacation that includes an airplane flight can't be truly "green," you can go on holiday and still contribute positively to the environment. You can offset carbon emissions from your flight in other ways. Choose forward-looking companies that embrace responsible development practices, helping preserve destinations for the future by working alongside local people. An increasing number of sustainable tourism initiatives can help you plan a family trip and leave as small a "footprint" as possible on the places you visit.
Responsible Travel (www.responsibletravel.com) contains a great source of sustainable travel ideas run by a spokesperson for responsible tourism in the travel industry. Sustainable Travel International (www.sustainabletravelinternational.org) promotes responsible tourism practices and issues an annual Green Gear & Gift Guide.
You can find eco-friendly travel tips, statistics, and touring companies and associations -- listed by destination under "Travel Choice" -- at the International Ecotourism Society (TIES) website (www.ecotourism.org). Also check out Conservation International (www.conservation.org), which, with National Geographic Traveler, annually presents World Legacy Awards (www.wlaward.org) to those travel tour operators, businesses, organizations, and places that have made a significant contribution to sustainable tourism. Ecotravel.com (www.ecotravel.com) is part online magazine and part ecodirectory, letting you search for touring companies in several categories (water-based, land-based, spiritually oriented, and so on).
In the U.K., Tourism Concern (www.tourismconcern.org.uk) works to reduce social and environmental problems connected to tourism and find ways of improving tourism so that local benefits are increased.
The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) (www.abtamembers.org/responsibletourism) acts as a focal point for the U.K. travel industry and is one of the leading groups spearheading responsible tourism.
The Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) (www.aito.co.uk) is a group of interesting specialist operators leading the field in making holidays sustainable.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.